Language and Sustainable Development Webinar Series

This webinar series brings together leading researchers to highlight the breadth of innovative language-based research being conducted in relation to sustainable development. The aims of the series are to 1) showcase the ways in which language/linguistics can contribute towards sustainable development and 2) provide practical guidance for linguists who might want to get involved in this type of research.

This series will

  • Highlight the linguistic work being done within the GCRF landscape
  • Discuss the challenges and opportunities of working within interdisciplinary North/South collaborations
  • Discuss specific issues related to language-based research and how to address these
  • Discuss processes of researching multilingually
  • Provide practice steps for successful projects
  • Suggest what direction should be taken for the objectives and impact of future research


Our second run of scheduled talks in this series will be beginning in May 2021.

Upcoming webinars

We’ll be updating this section shortly!

23rd July 2021 12 noon BST (GMT+1)

You can register for this webinar here.

Prosperity and Exploitation: Language and Sociolinguistic Structure in Capitalist Rwanda
Kate Spowage, University of Leeds

Since 1994, Rwanda has been considered something of an ‘economic miracle’. It has experienced year-on-year GDP growth, expanded access to education, and significantly increased the value of its exports. The government has combined central planning with key neoliberal reforms, reshaping Rwandan society in the process. This has provided a rationale for the imposition of English as a language of instruction in Rwandan schools (mandated in 2008). There are certainly other factors at play, but in this paper I will examine the economic (and therefore social/political) logic of the shift to English, tracing its implications for the largely ‘monolingual’ Kinyarwanda-speaking population. In economic terms, I suggest that the policy facilitates the creation of a stratified hierarchy of labour, in which the prosperity of educated Engilsh speakers is inseparable from the exploitation of (more or less) monolingual Kinyarwanda speakers, many of whom work in the extraction of raw materials. On this basis, I raise questions as to whether attempts to secure linguistic equality, and social justice more broadly, are complicated or frustrated by capitalism. Finally, I look briefly to the work of Franz Fanon and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o to explore alternatives to the neoliberal vision.

Previous webinars

Series 2

7th May 2021 12 noon BST (GMT+1)

You can view a recording of this webinar here

Inclusive multilingual literacy: the LILIEMA model
Friederike Lüpke, Jérémi Fahed Sagna and Miriam Weidl

In this talk, we introduce the LILIEMA model, a literacy programme run by a Senegal-based association of the same name. LILIEMA stems from collaborative research in Senegal’s southern Casamance region. LILIEMA is inspired by existing grassroots strategies for multilingual writing, which consist of extending the spelling conventions of hegemonic languages to entire repertoires. Such strategies allow inclusive writing in contexts where no educational resources are available for the majority of languages. Programmes such as LILIEMA overcome the exclusion and minoritisation of speakers and their repertoires resulting from language-based multilingual education programmes, where some languages, lects, or written representations are always excluded. The versatile LILIEMA method provides learners with a tool to write their entire repertoire and create texts in monolingual and multilingual modes according to their own needs.  We provide an overview of LILIEMA’s structure, goals and activities since its inception in 2017, and also illustrate its potential for the dissemination of trusted health information through a successful Covid 19 information campaign.

28th May 2021 12 noon BST (GMT+1)

You can view a recording of this talk here

Language and the Sustainable Development Goals

Philip Harding-Esch (London) and Hywel Coleman (Jakarta)

Language and the Sustainable Development Goals, edited by Harding-Esch and Coleman, was published very recently by the British Council. This is the twelfth publication to emerge from the Language and Development Conferences (LDCs) since they began in 1993.

This webinar is not exactly a launch event for the book. Instead, it uses the book as a starting point for a discussion of some urgent current issues. We begin with some background on the LDC series and, in particular, the 2017 LDC in Dakar, Senegal, which was the source for the 21 papers in this volume. After looking at just a couple of the papers we identify some lessons learned regarding the roles of language in development goals.

However, the world has changed in the four years since the Dakar Conference took place. We can see now that this publication reflects an earlier and more innocent age, before COVID exploded and before the arrival of Trump and fake news. This leads into a discussion of broader issues which include but are not limited to:

  • the failure to communicate health message
  • the end of face-to-face education and the simplistic adoption of ‘technology’ for remote learning
  • rampant misinformation in social media and mistrust of science as a source of information
  • a rapid increase in social inequity, both within and between nations.

In consequence, the not inconsiderable achievements of ‘development’ since the end of the Second World War are being undone. (See Coleman, 2017, Milestones in language planning and development aid.)

What are the implications of these dramatic changes for DGs and the roles of language?

  • The idea of DGs: Do they have (or have they had) any impact? Do they inspire, encourage or constrain attention being paid to language issues in development? Do they still have any relevance?
  • How realistic are international DGs? Don’t digital ‘solutions’ simply mean one-size-fits-all?
  • At what point should space for language be built into the design of DGs?

We recommend very strongly that webinar participants have a glance at Language and the Sustainable Development Goals before the event. This is available free of charge at: We also encourage participants to identify one or two issues relating to language and development goals which particularly interest them. Please send these to Colin ( no later than 12.00 midday British Summer Time (18.00 West Indonesia Time) on Thursday 27th May. We will try to build your thoughts into the discussion.

11th June 2021 12 noon BST (GMT+1) in collaboration with the Wits University Hub for Multilingual Education and Literacies

You can view a recording of this webinar here.

To know and to be of ubuntu translanguaging: Towards multilingual multilingualism for decoloniality and sustainable development in Africa
Leketi Makalela & Clarah Dhokotera

Multilingualism is an enabler of one’s identity, cultural knowledge, personal well-being and social belonging. Yet this basic fact about human conditions is always construed from monolingual ideology of oneness, and concomitantly, its developmental affordances are neglected for system wide change in the global South. In this presentation we address the lurking dangers of epistemological and monolingual bias as two colonial carry-over burdens for development in Africa. Secondly, we present a model for epistemic justice and affirmed selfhood  underpinned by ubuntu translanguaging. Using data from a range of sources in and outside of school and analysis of current policies we make a compelling case that multilingualism and cultural identities are inextricably connected, and that they both predict sustainable development. Implications for decolonization based African multilingualism (aka multilingual multilingualism) and translanguaging are highlighted and areas of collaborative research applicable to other post-colonial contexts are identified at the end of the presentation.

Series 1

17th July 12 Noon BST – Dr Wine Tesseur & Dr Enida Friel
You can view a recording of this talk here

Translation as empowerment: Languages, sustainable development & academic-NGO collaboration
This talk will mainly revolve around NGO-academic collaboration by discussing the features, challenges and opportunities of a collaborative research project between a postdoctoral researcher (Dr Wine Tesseur, Dublin City University) and an Irish humanitarian NGO, GOAL (represented by Dr Enida Friel, Head of GOAL’s Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning team). The project investigates the role of translation in the work of GOAL and other NGOs, and particularly looks at how translation can be a tool for empowerment (e.g. by providing access to information and enabling people’s voices to be heard).

In this talk, Dr Tesseur and Dr Friel will discuss:

  • the background of the project, type of funding and how the collaboration was set up
  • why language and translation matter in the work of NGOs (or how to pitch your research)
  • GOAL’s role in the research and how the collaboration is unfolding
  • a reflection on the challenges and opportunities of NGO-academic collaboration

31st July 12 Noon BST – Prof Paul Kerswill & Mrs Margaret Ismaila
You can view a recording of this talk here

Mitigating social and environmental harm through Participatory Theatre: a case study from artisanal and small-scale gold mining in Ghana
In our talk, we will reflect on our experiences setting up an interdisciplinary study combining environmental science, participatory theatre, sociolinguistics and development – using both qualitative and quantitative methods. The focus is on artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) in Ghana, a major industry employing over a million people, but causing widespread environmental, social and health-related harms.

Our current project builds on the results of an earlier, equally interdisciplinary one by the same team, which looked at the issues arising from ASGM in the round, using environmental data, focus groups, historical records, and ‘scenario mapping’ by which people are invited to imagine their ideal future. This time, we are attempting to create a positive impact on local people, based on what we learnt from the earlier study.

We decided to use Participatory Theatre (PT), a methodology that involves the generation of a play by local people who are invited to take up issues of concern to them. The play is guided by a facilitator until a final, though still flexible, form is arrived at. Audience engagement is central, and allows for judgements to be openly expressed of the rights and wrongs of particular actions; from this, a reflective approach to the issues emerges among the participants and audience.

While this method has been widely used across Africa in HIV/AIDS campaigns, our focus is on the harmful effects of ASGM. The aim is to bring about changes in people’s conceptualisation of ASGM and its risks. These subjective changes may lead to changes in individual behaviour that are generated bottom-up and therefore ‘owned’.

Because the small towns where we will operate are multilingual, language choice will be highlighted in the play, thus encouraging actors to assume particular (often their own) identities. 

Finally, again using focus groups, we hope to estimate both immediate and longer term changes in attitudes and behaviours.

So far, it has only been possible to complete the first stage, because of the pandemic-related lockdown. But the first stage, in which we established face-to-face contacts, demonstrated the importance of utilising the existing structures in a community, to gain leaders’ confidence and to make the project acceptable across a broad base.

In our talk, we will not only discuss PT, but also present and illustrate the methods we used to gain the trust of the communities. 

14th August 12 Noon BST – Dr Clyde Ancarno
You can view a recording of this talk here.

Multilingual Education in The Gambia
The project Multilingual Education in The Gambia (2018-2022, funded by GCRF and King’s College London) focusses on an early biliteracy initiative launched there in 2015 to develop literacy in public primary school children, grades 1 to 3, in one national language (Mandinka, Fula, Wolof, Jola, Serahule, Serer, Manjaku) alongside English. Like other attempts to introduce national languages into Gambian education, this biliteracy programme faces challenges. Our research project provides critical insights into its implementation, thus supporting social justice. Multilingual Education in The Gambia is committed to foregrounding perspectives, knowledge and practices from educators and others in The Gambia.  

28th August 12 Noon BST – Prof Nancy Kula & Dr Joseph Mwansa
You can view a recording of this talk here

Bringing the outside in: emerging insights into language use and language attitudes in Zambian primary schools.

In this presentation we will discuss our British Academy/GCRF project which is investigating multilingualism and education in Botswana, Tanzania, and Zambia.  In these countries the presence of multilingual ecologies is widespread, yet, they all have mandated broadly monolingual approaches to education (albeit with different combinations of languages), which also privilege the use of English in more advanced stages of education. We will discuss the contrasting sociolinguistic situation within each country and compare the differing approaches to language-in-education policy therein.

We will then provide an overview of our methodological approach, which utilises linguistic ethnography to produce case studies within each country. This approach is underlined by three guiding principles: 1) researching multilingually; 2) researching collaboratively and; 3) researching responsively. In this discussion we will also highlight the challenges and opportunities which are present in working within a large, international team.

Finally, we will share emerging insights from our first cycle of data collection in Zambia. Drawing on focus groups and interviews with pupils, parents, and teachers as well as classroom observations and recordings, we will highlight how language is used in the classroom and the prevailing attitudes towards what type of language practices are suitable within education.

11th September 12 Noon BST – Prof Leon Tikly
You can view a recording of this talk here.

Conceptualising language supportive learning for cross-curriculum engagement in Sub-Saharan Africa 

This paper reviews the relevant literature and research which looks at the concept of language support, focusing on textbooks and pedagogy in Sub-Saharan African countries which have a second language medium of instruction. The scant literature which exists suggests that current teaching practice and textbook design are not targeted for learners learning in a second language. This can result in language acting as a barrier to effective learning across the curriculum. In the light of this discussion, definitions of ‘language supportive textbooks’ and ‘language supportive pedagogy’ are put forward and considerations are made for how in practice this could lead to more effective engagement with subjects across the curriculum. 

Keywords: language; education; Africa; textbooks; pedagogy

25th September 12 Noon BST – Panel Discussion
You can view a recording of this talk here

In the final session of our series all of our featured speakers will be invited back for a panel discussion. This session will offer a chance to discuss some of the key issues and themes which have emerged throughout the series.

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